Songs, Poetry and Lovely Words

Once upon a time, I was at a conference, and the faculty member/poetry judge (who was an English Lit prof) said something to the effect of “It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense, as long as the language is beautiful.”

To which I recoiled, aghast. (Which is a fun word, in itself. Aghast. It’s even spelled in a fun way.)

As said last week, or the week before, I’m all about the story. If the art doesn’t serve the story, it should be excised. However, I’m a novelist. I’m not even very good at short stories, much less short-shorts, and flash fiction? Fuggeddaboudit. (Or however that’s spelt.)

When I was in high school, my English teacher gave an assignment to rewrite Beowulf as a Western. I wrote 13 pages (front-and-back, college-ruled paper–and I write pretty small), and wasn’t through. I have never been a short-storyteller. But, I think there IS a place for pretty language that doesn’t necessarily serve the story. Poetry.

I don’t read a lot of poetry. It’s not really “my thing,” and–as in many other areas, I have what’s considered rather plebeian taste in poetry. I like rhythmic, rhyming stuff. Things that are almost songs, just in the words. And I like poetry a lot as song lyrics. There’s some pretty bad poetry in lyrics, but there’s some good stuff out there too.

Thing is–and I don’t think this is a contradiction–I don’t like song-stories, otherwise known as ballads, very much. I like the older ballads well enough–things like The Highwayman or The Ballad of New Orleans–but things like “Lucille” or “A Boy Named Sue”? Not so much. Because once I’ve heard the story, I’ve heard it. I don’t want to hear it a bazillion times more, even if it is set to music. I know how it comes out. (When combined with my antagonism toward monotonous boring music, this makes “Ode to Billy Joe”–the old 60s song about how “Billy Joe McAlister jumped off of Tallahatchee Bridge”–into my most despised song Ever.)

I’m sure y’all can name any number of exceptions, but I really prefer songs that–like poetry–create an emotion. A moment in time. A bit of “this is how I feel at this moment.” Poetry is, to me, more like painting and music. Ephemeral stuff that bypasses the logical left brain and does a whammy on the emotive right brain–except poetry uses words and so has to bring the left brain in on it. Even poems like “My Last Duchess,” by Robert Browning (which is a favorite) is about a moment. It tells a story, but it’s still a moment in time, a kick of emotion.

So–poetic words can have their place in a novel, by creating moments of emotion. But in a novel, they have to serve the story.

I’m not sure I’ve made any sense at all here. I know I’ve wandered all over the place and probably haven’t conveyed what I was attempting to say–but I tried.

Oh, and it looks like I may be going back to a more regular PT job. The girl who took over during my “leave of absence” is departing at the end of next week, and I’ll be back at the newspaper on a more regular basis. Not sure how I feel about that, but… We’ll get by.

2 Responses to Songs, Poetry and Lovely Words

  1. Just dropped by to tell you how much I’m enjoying Heart’s Blood. I read New Blood a couple of months ago and just loved it, so much so that I decided I couldn’t wait for the Kindle edition of HB and just ordered the print copy. Discovered both by clicking through the ad for HB at SBTB.

    As long as I’m here I’ll chime in on poetry. I totally agree about the need for some sort of narrative. I love the metaphysical and romantic poets but when poetry started morphing into “it doesn’t have to make sense as long as the words are pretty” I lost interest. John Donne makes me swoon, though.

    And Ode To Billy Joe? Are you nuts? Genius! Genius, I tell you! (I love the Eva Cassidy version.)

  2. Laurel, thanks so much for loving my books!

    Yeah, John Dunne. I like William Blake too, though he’s moving into that “sense? What sense?” direction. And I absolutely love E.A. Poe’s THE BELLS for the sound and rhythm of it. It’s definitely a Mood piece.

    As to Billy Joe–we will just have to agree to disagree. 😛 😉

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